Macron, Merkel seek common approaches to Trump, euro

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak to reporters ahead of their meeting in Berlin, Germany, November 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 18 November 2018
0

Macron, Merkel seek common approaches to Trump, euro

  • Macron urged European government to seize more responsibility for their own fate, especially regarding defense

FRANKFURT: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel consulted Sunday on migration, fixing the euro currency, Europe’s defense, taxing digital companies and other issues as the two leaders looked to preserve their influence abroad while their authority flags at home.
Macron, who came to Berlin to take part in Germany’s national remembrance day for the victims of war and dictatorship, urged European government to seize more responsibility for their own fate, especially regarding defense.
Macron said that the French-German alliance “is invested with this obligation not to allow the world to slide into chaos, and to accompany it on the road of peace.”
He said that Europe can’t play its role “if it doesn’t take more responsibility for its defense and security and is content to play a secondary role on the international scene.”
The two biggest countries in Europe can be a powerful force, but their leaders at the moment are hampered by falling domestic support. Macron has seen his poll ratings sag at home, where more than a quarter-million people protested Saturday over proposed gas tax hikes. Merkel has been a lame duck since saying she wouldn’t seek another term.
Merkel has offered support for Macron’s proposal for a European army. Both leaders have said Europe needs to depend less on others — such as the US — for its defense.
US President Donald Trump has unsettled NATO allies by demanding member countries either pay more for defense or “protect themselves,” as he put it in a recent tweet.
However, ceremonial appearances and warm words offered ahead of a December summit on the euro can’t hide the persistent friction between the French and German approaches to the European Union’s economic issues.
Germany and France have apparently struck a deal on a common budget for the EU countries that use the shared euro currency, something Macron pushed for. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the dpa news agency the proposal was to be presented to European finance ministers Monday.
The size of the budget — mentioned by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as 20 to 25 billion euros — is far short of Macron’s idea. The amount is only 0.2 percent of the eurozone economy, less than the several percentage points of gross domestic product originally mentioned by Macron.
The compromise underscores German reluctance to sign off on anything seen as transferring taxpayer money from richer countries like Germany to more fiscally shaky ones such as Italy or Greece.
The European summit in December is to take up limited proposals to strengthen the euro currency, such as upgrading the eurozone’s bailout fund and a long-term road map for introducing EU-level deposit insurance.
The two sides can’t agree on a tax on digital companies such as Amazon and Google. The French and the European Commission have proposed imposing such a tax, but Scholz said the issue should be left with the 36-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
A European army would be a long-term prospect. Macron was advocating that Europe do more for its own defense, putting him on the same page in many ways with Trump.


Top Indian court says it will not probe French fighter jet deal

Updated 14 December 2018
0

Top Indian court says it will not probe French fighter jet deal

  • Congress party accused Narendra Modi’s administration of graft following a deal to buy 36 Rafale planes and the decision to pick Reliance Defense as a domestic partner
  • India’s Supreme Court ruled there was no evidence of commercial favoritism

DELHI: India’s Supreme Court said Friday it would not probe the government’s multi-billion dollar decision to buy French fighter jets.
The opposition Congress party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration of graft following a deal to buy 36 Rafale planes and the decision to pick Reliance Defense, owned by billionaire Anil Ambani, as a domestic partner.
Reliance has no aeronautical expertise and was chosen ahead of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which does, triggering allegations of a scam.
But the court said there was no evidence of commercial favoritism.
“Having heard the matter in detail, we find no reason for any intervention by this court on the sensitive issue. Perception of individuals cannot be the basis of fishing and roving enquiry by this court, especially in such matters,” the 32-page verdict said.
“We can’t compel the government to purchase 126 aircraft and it’s not proper for the court to examine each aspect of this case. It isn’t a job of the court to compare pricing details. The country cannot afford to be unprepared or underprepared in a situation where our adversaries are stated to have acquired not only fourth generation, but even fifth generation aircrafts, of which we have none,” the court added.
Indian defense procurement rules state that a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help to build up its manufacturing base and wean it off imports.
HAL was the sole contender for being the local partner of Dassault Aviation, which makes the Rafale jets, but when the deal was sealed in 2015 during Modi’s Paris trip it was Reliance Defense that got the contract.
“In our opinion, the Supreme Court judgment is totally wrong. The campaign will certainly not drop and we will decide if we will file a review petition,” one of the main petitioners Prashant Bhushan said after the verdict.
“This isn’t the first time when the Apex court has failed us in ordering a probe in cases of high-level corruption,” he told reporters.
Congress said the Supreme Court was not the forum to rule on such a sensitive defense contract.
“The verdict of the Supreme Court is a validation of what the Congress party has stated months ago. Only forum is a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) which can probe the entire corruption in Rafale deal,” said the party’s chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala.
Ambani denied there had been a scam, saying the allegations were politically motivated, while the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded an apology from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
“Truth always triumphs. Court’s judgment on the Rafale deal exposes the campaign of misinformation spearheaded by Congress president for political gains,” president of the BJP Amit Shah said.
Dr. Satish Mishra, from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank, said that the court verdict did not mean that the Rafale deal was beyond reproach.
“It only means that the court does not have enough evidence to order a probe into the deal,” he told Arab News. “If the government does not have anything to hide then it should order an independent inquiry or set up a joint parliamentary team to clear the doubts raised by the opposition, otherwise the charges will remain in the public domain. The BJP is in a defensive mode after the defeat in the regional elections. Allegations of corruptions have sullied the image of Modi, the only asset that the party has. I don’t think the verdict in any way vindicates the PM or the BJP.”